Opinion: Ending Russian aggression means stopping them from afar

Benjamin Grimes, Senior Staff Writer

It’s finally happened. 

After months of standstill, Russia launched an invasion into Ukraine on Wednesday, sending missiles into airports, defense facilities, and cities across the country. 

“Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way,” President Joe Biden said in a statement released by the White House Wednesday. “The world will hold Russia accountable.”

As the world watches in horror, it’s imperative that the United States and NATO make the right moves in order to defuse the situation as smoothly as possible.  

And the first thing we need to ensure is that not a single U.S. boot touches Ukrainian soil. Biden has been slowly increasing the number of troops in countries surrounding Ukraine, like Germany, Poland, and Romania. But so far, no U.S. troops have been sent inside Ukraine.

According to White House and national security correspondent David Sanger, it needs to stay that way. 

That’s because the last thing we want is a military encounter between the U.S. and Russia. If a single shot from an American rifle hits a Russian soldier, that’s all Putin needs to declare war against the U.S. And a war between the U.S. and Russia can escalate to an entirely different level than what we are seeing with Ukraine right now — a nuclear one.

“Russia isn’t just like any adversary,” Sanger said. “It has more nuclear weapons than any other country on Earth. … Messing with superpowers is a whole different thing.” 

It’s a position that Biden echoed in refusal to send troops to Ukraine. 

“It’s not like we’re dealing with a terrorist organization,” Biden said in an NBC News interview on Feb. 10. “We’re dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. … That’s a world war when Americans and Russia start shooting at one another.” 

According to Sanger, Russia’s ability to retaliate against the U.S. could lead to disaster. 

“With countries in the past — Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia — the U.S. was always in the dominant position,” Sanger said. “Those countries don’t have the ability to reach back at the United States. … But that’s not the case if the U.S. were to enter a conflict with Russia. The disaster scenarios are endless.”

But that doesn’t mean we should sit back on the sidelines and watch Russia’s takeover. The best response to Russia is one that we can control from afar — using our economic weapons. 

And that starts with cutting Russia off from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, a global messaging system that connects thousands of banks and financial institutions around the world. 

The Washington Post describes SWIFT as the “Gmail of global banking.” Although it doesn’t actually handle actual bank transactions, it controls communications between banks, delivering secure messages to over 11,000 financial institutions in over 200 countries and territories. 

According to Maria Shagina, visiting fellow at the Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies, at the University of Birmingham, cutting off Russia from Swift would bring disaster to its economy. 

“The impact on the Russian economy would be equally devastating, particularly in the short term,” Shagina wrote in a paper last year for Carnegie Moscow Center. “Russia is heavily reliant on SWIFT due to its multibillion exports of hydrocarbons denominated in U.S. dollars. The cutoff would terminate all international transactions, trigger currency volatility, and cause massive capital outflows.” 

According to Markos Zachariadis, a professor and chair in financial technology and information systems at the University of Manchester, stopping access to SWIFT is akin to cutting a country off from the Internet. 

“Imagine all these organizations that operate online,” Kachariadis said. “They have their customers where they send information and transact with suddenly having zero access to this infrastructure.”

But the final blow to Russia could come from inside the country itself. 

The Washington Post reports that a survey of Russians in December revealed that just 8 percent think Russia should send military forces into Ukraine. For Russia, ordinary citizens will suffer too, which could drive a national sentiment against an invasion of Ukraine and drop Putin’s public approval. Putin, faced with a crumbling economy and Russian citizens against him might have no choice but to stop the attack on Ukraine.

Russia might seem to be in control of the battlefield now, but it’s the U.S that has power from afar over Russia’s economy. 

If we want to stop this conflict as soon as possible, let’s turn our economic weapons towards Russia.